I come from a family of Vaudevillians. My father, a comic dancer, was a headliner at the Palace Theater in NYC, as well as a hoofer on the Orpheum circuit. He was billed with and above greats like Rudy Vallee, Milton Berle, Burns and Allen, Ray Bolger, the Dorsey Brothers and many more. Thus, I have a great appreciation for comedy — real comedy by naturally talented entertainers who are truly funny in style, delivery and physicality.
When reminiscing great comedians, we old timers think of names like Berle, Red Skelton and Jerry Lewis, and in today’s world, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and Jim Carrey. But we often forget about the funny ladies, some of whom were (and are) equally as gifted, or more so, than their comedic male counter parts. So, just for fun, I’ve created my own list of the funniest natural comediennes who have ever performed in movies, television and/or stand-up.
It’s tough to pick numbers one two and three, because they are as great as each other, but here goes. The ten greatest all-time female comics: (List of links below, to see samplings)
1. Carol Burnett
2. Gilda Radner
3. Madeline Kahn
4. Lucille Ball
5. JoAnne Worley
6. Kathy Griffin
7. Gracie Allen
8. Joan Rivers
9. Victoria Wood
10. Goldie Hawn
Yes, I know I left out Ellen Degeneres, Lily Tomlin, Roseann Barr and Phyllis Diller, but there was only room for ten at the top.
Here’s a few links to judge by:
Carol Burnett always used to spend a few minutes on her show engaging with the audience in ad lib mode. She didn’t use teleprompters, scripts and lines to show off her comic talent:
Maybe the greatest natural talent in female comedy ever. Gilda Radner died in her prime. Here’s a sampling of her relationship with Barbara Walters:
No woman was ever finnier in comic movies than Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.
Lucille Ball started as an actress and dancing showgirl before morphing into a comic genius. Here’s the famous Chocolate Factory scene from I Love Lucy:
JoAnne Worley. of Laugh-In fame, didn’t stay in the business long enough to leave a great legacy, but her gift for comedy could rival the best of them. This 22-second clip says it all:
Kathy Griffin is a modern-day comic giant, no need for scripts and teleprompters, she can ad lib with the best of them, plus she’s the best female stand-up comic today:
Gracie Allen goes way back to early Vaudeville, teamed with her husband George Burns. She was the funniest “dumb” comic of all time. Here’s an example of her idiotic vaudeville-style dialogue as Burns and Allen:
Joan Rivers might have succeeded Johnny Carson on the Late Show had she not blown her trust with him. Nobody doubts her genius comic abilities and her staying power in the business, now making people laugh over fifty years, and still going.
British comedienne, Victoria Wood should be better known in the U.S. in time because she is very funny and gifted. She is also an actress, singer, song-writer, screen-writer and director.
Goldie Hawn made her mark on Laugh-In and then went on to many hilarious motion pictures. With Goldie, you can’t help but laugh, when she laughs. She is better known as an actress, producer, singer and dancer, but her natural wit has brought involuntary laughter to people throughout her career. Watch this 5-minute video from her appearance with Dean Martin, her delivery, her laughs, and dare tell me you did not smile broadly from beginning to end.
And finally, here’s a clip with four of the great women comics all in one video; JoAnne Worley, Ruth Buzzi, Lily Tomlin and Goldie: